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Virgin Galactic seemed intent on making it clear that this was not a traditional NASA launch. Instead of a stoic countdown, there was a party-like atmosphere along the tarmac, a scene as much a spectacle as a space launch that even included a musical guest, Khalid, who debuted a new song during a performance here. The company’s live broadcast of the flight was hosted by comedian and late-night host Stephen Colbert, and Musk was on hand to watch Branson and the crew take off.

Unlike traditional rockets that launch vertically, Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo Unity takes off tethered to the belly of a mother ship. On Sunday, the mother ship, known as WhiteKnightTwo, lifted off from the tarmac here shortly after 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, delayed by about 90 minutes because high winds overnight had kept the ground crew from rolling it out of the hangar. The spaceship was released at about 11:25 a.m. Eastern time, the pilots ignited the engine and the spacecraft shot almost straight up as it thundered toward space.

The flight reached its apogee at 282,000 feet — 53.41 miles — where the passengers were able to unstrap and experience weightlessness. The spacecraft then fell back to earth and a landing at 11:39 Eastern time.

On board were pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, both of whom had flown to space on previous flights. Joining Branson in the crew compartment were Sirisha Bandla, Virgin Galactic’s vice president of government affairs, Colin Bennett, the company’s lead operations engineer, and Beth Moses, its chief astronaut instructor. Moses, who is married to Mike Moses, the company’s president, flew on Virgin Galactic’s second spaceflight mission, in 2019.

Branson had originally been scheduled to fly aboard a flight scheduled for later this summer or early fall. But after the company successfully made it to space in May, he grew impatient.

“I’ve been itching to go, and they said they wanted somebody to properly test the astronaut experience,” Branson said in a recent interview with The Post. “And I was damned if I was going to let anyone take that seat.”

In a press conference after the flight, he said he wasn’t nervous about the trip. “We have nearly 1,000 of the best engineers in the world” who pored over every inch of the spacecraft, he said. His only concern, he said, was the possibility of a delay. “The only thing I was worried about was some tiny little something that would get in the way, something that would stop us from getting into space.”

He called the experience “just magical…. I’m just taking it all in.” And added that, “having flown to space, I can see more clearly how Virgin Galactic is the spaceline for Earth.”

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